Gov. Bruce Rauner has ordered the Department of Human Services to suspend funding of more than 23 youth programs, including the Lessie Bates Neighborhood House's Teen Reach program and Community Youth Services programs.
Supporters of the programs say the cuts are misguided, but Rauner’s staff says he has few options for closing a $1.6 billion hole in the budget for the state’s current fiscal year.
Bill Kreeb, the director of Lessie Bates Neighborhood House in East St. Louis, is calling on supporters of the organization to call or write to Rauner and local legislators to to reinstate the suspended programs because they are vital to the poor.
“This means that the Neighborhood House and all of the agencies will have to immediately stop the provision of any services to children, youth and families in the community and lay off hundreds of staff,” Kreeb said.
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Some of the other Neighborhood House programs that will be affected by the suspension include an addiction-prevention program, transportation services, funeral and burial services for the poor, and epilepsy services.
“We all realize that some difficult decisions have to be made to address the very real fiscal crisis that the state of Illinois now faces. Last week legislators agreed and the governor signed legislation that required all programs to be cut 2.25 percent,” Kreeb said. “All of the social service and faith-based organizations understood this and were in the process of doing this, but for Gov. Rauner to immediately turn around and suspend 23 critically needed programs is a travesty.”
Kreeb added, “The governor is saying there is a $1.6 billion shortfall in funding for the rest of the fiscal year. Cutting the Teen Reach program for the next three months will save $3.1 million — small compared to $1.6 billion.”
Catherine Kelly, a spokeswoman for Rauner, said the Republican governor is trying solve a budget problem that was dealt to him by former Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat.
“Pat Quinn enacted a budget with a $1.6 billion hole that needs to be closed, which the governor is doing the without borrowing or increasing taxes. The legislation passed by the General Assembly is not a complete solution, and the administration’s ability to manage the budget is restricted by the legislation as well the time it took to pass,” Kelly said. “Part of the solution to solving the inherited $1.6 billion budget hole without raising taxes or increasing borrowing is to continue to evaluate the current fiscal year’s budget.”
Kreeb thinks the governor should have waited until the end of the fiscal year to cut the programs. Or even better, he said, Rauner could have found some new revenue sources for the programs.
The Neighborhood House currently provides after-school programming through its Teen Reach program. Hundreds of children participate throughout the week.
"The governor can not continue to try to balance the budget on the backs of the poorest and most isolated children and families in our state. To immediately suspend programs for children with autism and epilepsy and to cut out all funds for funeral and burial of the poor is unacceptable. In my 35 years of ministry in our community, I have never seen any governor do something so insensitive as to immediately stop the provision of services to our children and families,” Kreeb said. “The majority of our parents are single-parent families who do not have the resources to immediately obtain alternative care,” Kreeb said.
Kreeb said he planned to continue providing programming for children and youth for the remainder of the week. Kreeb is also seeking to find temporary funding from other organizations.